Pier 40 Airlifts Air Rights to St. John: A Tale

By Barry Benepe

Architect, city planner and father of the Farmer’s Market, Barry Benepe is steeped in the bureaucratic vernacular after decades of intense encounters with city government.Here he offers the arcane transfer of air rights to the 1000 plus towering apartment complex proposed to replace the 3 block long St. John’s Terminal building. He also wants to tear down the Pier 40 building so we have a 15 acre park with clear views of the river. —George Capsis

With regard to the proposed sale of development (air) rights supposedly available from Pier 40 to the enormous St. John Terminal Project across West Street covering West Houston Street it might be useful to draw a parallel to the Wizard of Oz.

Dorothy was standing in her rubber boots when the storm Sandy lifted the Hudson River over ten feet, causing extensive damage to her enormous but fragile house. Never mind that it was the ugliest as well as the largest garage eyesore in the Hudson River Park, blocking off views and access to the waterfront from Greenwich Village for three blocks. Never mind that it was already in dilapidated condition, requiring many, many millions of dollars to maintain its overwhelming box store appearance. How can she possibly rebuild the monstrosity she loves so much as a “vital resource”? Even Toto, from his dog house in the soccer field barked that Dorothy should “save the extraordinary park resource.”

The Good Witch of the South came to the rescue from his lair at 22 Reade Street. Flying in on his trusty broom, he said, “Dorothy, if you will wait in the center of the plastic turf soccer field at midnight during the next full moon, you will see a shower of two hundred thousand 12-inch-square, thin gold-leaf sheets that many call “air rights”, because we create them out of thin air, to float down from the sky. Take these across the yellow brick road to the Emerald City where the Wizard of Oz will reward you $500 for each square.”

Dorothy was overwhelmed with his generosity. On the appointed night she waited, accompanied by all the happy munchkins in the village, looking up toward the glorious full moon when out of the dark, mysterious skyvault thousands of gold-backed one foot square papers gently floated to the field, some drifting onto the trucks, cars and tractors surrounding it, but quickly retrieved. Each was embossed Development Right “$500 in Cash, Payable to Bearer,” signed with the initials of the Good Witch “CW.” How to get so many thousands into her picnic basket, which could only hold a hundred, to take to the Wizard? “I know,” she said, “I will enlist 2000 Flying Monkeys to help me and give each a basket to carry the air lifted air rights across to the Emerald City.”

The kindly Wizard was waiting on his throne, surrounded by his three friends, the re-stuffed scarecrow, the re-polished tin woodman and the brave lion. He had piles of $500 gold coins waiting, each inscribed PK and edged with “In Planning We Trust” and “The Gateway to the Future,”

Dorothy swooned with the Wizard’s generosity and was ready to leave with her newly gained enormous horde, when the Wizard stopped her and said, “There is a way we can build an even taller, towering Emerald City Gateway. The Good Witch whispered to me that he can give you many, many more golden sheets to bring me. In fact, you could have 800,000 more air rights which my neighbors and I will buy in order to build ever grander palaces facing your beautiful park. All you have to do is replace your dilapidated garage with a beautiful green park where the canoes, kayaks and sailboats glide out into the wide river and our neighbors can board paddle wheel steamers and schooners to stream into the bay. The new park will be a home to all kinds of water fowl, fish and birds. The residents of Emerald City from diverse backgrounds will be happy in one of the most outstanding waterfront parks in New York.

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